Thursday, 27 June 2013

This week: pesto!

I remember clearly the first time I ever made pesto from scratch. I was visiting my friend Evelyn on her year abroad in Sardinia and one night we decided we'd make our own pesto for dinner. It took ages, we kept adding a bit more of this, a bit more of that to get the consistency and taste right. In the end we got something pretty good, although I don't remember being blown away and it felt like a faff to make.

Fast forward a decade or so and I have been meaning to make my own pesto a lot recently. I have a basil plant with leaves aplenty, I have a food processor which I previously didn't have and I've been seeing lots of recipes lately with variations on the classic base of pine nuts and basil that have inspired me. Last night I went for it! I made a pesto using roasted hazelnuts, just because I happened to have a packet at home. I used a mix of parsley and basil, as a I had a big bag of parsley that needed using up. It was so quick and easy to make. It was very tasty and I'll definitely be doing it again and trying other nuts and other green stuff in place of basil too, like this rocket pesto.

Pesto is a pretty family-friendly sauce. Both my children love it. You can tailor it to your own preferences of taste, using whichever nuts or herbs you think your family will enjoy most. As well as serving on pasta, you can stir some into a risotto, put a few splodges onto pizza, serve over warm new potatoes or green beans or even use in a sandwich with something like tomato and avocado.

Here's a basic recipe you can follow in terms of quantity:
  • 100g nuts (pine nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil, almonds...) toasted in a dry frying pan
  • 200g basil or try parsley, rocket, some fresh chives or oregano
  • 100g grated parmesan
  • 250-300ml olive oil (or just follow your instinct with the oil to create the consistency you desire)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste
Whizz up the nuts, basil and garlic with a generous tablespoon of oil in a food processor. Add more oil gradually to achieve a good consistency to your liking. Stir in the cheese. Add more oil if needed, followed by some lemon juice and season to taste.

Are you and your family fans of pesto? Do you make it yourself and do you have any recipe variations to share?
Link up your recipe of the week

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Breathe some new life into old toys

Whether you buy your children tons of toys or keep it to a limit, chances are sometimes they will still claim they have nothing to play with. Maybe there's a deep toy box where only the toys near the top really get pulled out to be played with or maybe there are so many toys, everywhere, that your child can't see beyond the clutter. In any case, it likely doesn't mean you need to go out and buy new toys but you may need to breathe some new life into old toys and I have a few suggestions of how to do so.

Keep out a selection of toys and pack some away. Every few months, rotate and bring out some of the toys you packed away. This helps with clutter as well as interest levels. There'll be renewed enthusiasm for toys your children haven't seen or played with in a while.

Change your arrangement of the toys. If you have something big out all the time, like a car garage or a doll's house, move it to a different place, maybe even a different room. If you have a big toy box, do the same, move it to a different spot. It may even make it more accessible and your child will be newly aware of what is in the room, perhaps noticing and taking an interest in something that's always been there but now is more visible to them.

Provide a new context for the toys. Summer time is a great opportunity to take indoor toys outside and enjoy them in a different way. Dolls or soft toys could be given a bath in a paddling pool (getting them washed and cleaned at the same time as playing with them). You could make a simple outdoor road for cars by sticking masking tape to a non-grassy area of your garden and then bring cars out to drive on there. Be imaginative and think about new uses or scenes you could create for playing with existing toys.

Set out a couple of different play areas. Just like at nursery school, how they have different toys and activity stations for the children, you can do the same at home. Sometimes I do a quick Lego building and leave out for my son ready for when he comes home from nursery. He sees it and wants to engage with it and play with his Lego.. You could put out a puzzle on a table, some colouring, simple paper and stuff to glue onto it, set out two lanes of cars in the middle of the room, sit some dolls/soft toys in a circle with a tea set. You get the idea....

Do you already do some of the above? Do you have any other tips to add for renewing interest in old toys?
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Friday, 21 June 2013

Who is your help at hand?

Earlier this week I came down with what I suspect was food posioning. Luckily my husband was able to come home from work a little earlier than normal that day to take over the childcare so I could go to bed. The next morning I was still feeling pretty awful. It is at times like these that I gain an appreciation for those who have family nearby (both sides of our family live out of the country).

My son goes to nursery in the afternoons so after my husband left (later than usual) for work, I struggled through the morning at home. I decided to ask a friend across the road (whose child attends the same class) if my son could go to nursery with them to save me making the walk. She was very happy to help me out and came to pick him up so I didn't even need to take him across to their house. It was greatly appreciated, as I was able to put my daughter down for her nap and then get some sleep myself.

We have lived in our current home for less than a year but thankfully I have made some friends here in that time. I have some people I feel comfortable calling on in times of need and with whom I'd be at ease leaving my children for a short amount of time if needed. This week I was reminded how important it is to build up some sort of support network close to home, especially if, like us, you don't have family close by.

People can be shy about asking for help, myself included probably. Yet, I am always happy and willing to do a favour for a friend in need and as we often hear, that is what friends are for. If you have family nearby then I am sure you wouldn't think twice about asking for a hand if you need one. People generally are willing and pleased to help out so we should remember that instead of feeling bad about asking them.

Who is your help at hand in times of need? Do you have family nearby? Do you have a nanny or regular babysitter you can always call up or like me, do you tend to rely on good friends for assistance on the odd occasion? Have you had a particular situation where you have really been thankful for your support network, whether that be family or friends?
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Monday, 17 June 2013

Parental guilt

When I was asked to contribute to Premmeditations' 'Give up the guilt' one-off linky, I was not sure where to start. Many of the other contributors have much bigger day-to-day issues to deal with than I do (special needs, mental illness for example). A post about my guilt may seem ridiculously trivial in comparison. In addition, whilst I naturally feel guilty as a mother sometimes, I am happy to say I don't often get bogged down by it. I don't mean to sound smug and I am far from a perfect mother but I wouldn't be Mummy Zen if I let guilt get the better of me!

Yet I know from speaking to mummy friends that the kinds of things that bring on guilt for me are the same for lots of other mothers. Also when it comes to any emotion, it's personal and nothing personal should be trivialised! So here's what makes me feel guilty, followed by how I avoid it bringing me down.

I can divide my sources of guilt into two. One is related to my own parenting, so things I do that make me feel guilty about me not being a good parent/role model. The other is guilt about time, wanting to spend it in a quality way and with equal measure with my two children and feeling like I don't do a great job of it.

Guilt about parenting is when I feel like I'm failing as a good parent. I'm thankful it doesn't happen very often but it's usually when I'm having a bad day, being tested at every moment and regrettably I do one or more of the following:
  • shout
  • respond hastily and snap
  • deal out an inappropriate punishment (nothing too severe obviously! Something like no pudding or no bedtime story)
Guilt over time spent with my two children is something that came along obviously with the second child. I know a lot of other parents are in the same boat, feeling stretched and like they are not giving enough to each child. With my youngest, she is neglected when it comes to acitivities. I used to take my son to lots of play groups, a music class and then at home we would often do painting, arts and crafts. I'm ashamed to say I don't think I have once got out the paints at home to do with my daughter who is nearly 20 months now. I won't bore you with my excuses!

As for my eldest, I similarly do less activities with him at home than I used to. I try to do a bit of writing practice with him most days as he is coming along well with his writing, but in an ideal world I would do this and other fun stuff too. He will start school in September so I am aware he will need lots of encouragement and support at home, as they learn to read and write.

I could go on and on about the guilt of time management with my two children, how my youngest gets dragged here, there and everywhere to fit in around her brother's daily schedule and rarely has the luxury of something fun purely for her benefit. Similarly, I sometimes find it hard to spend a bit of one-on-one time with my eldest child, which I think is important.

So how do I not let the guilt I sometimes experience get the better of me? With the guilt about my own parenting, I hate myself for it. I try to step back from the situation and address what is really going on. Am I over-tired or hungry and it's making me impatient and unattentive? What are my childen trying to communicate through their challenging behaviour? Deep breaths, count to ten and start again! Making an effort to be a good parent is so worthwhile because everyone benefits, the children and the parent.

In the case of the guilt I sometimes feel over quality time spent with my children, I remind myself of all the positive things in our daily life and get it all in perspective. I give them both lots of love and affection, I cook healthy meals for them each day, I read stories to them both every evening, I always do at least one activity with each of them even if it is something small like playing chase or building Lego. I talk to them and listen. Then there are some days when we go above and beyond the norm! We do go to the odd playgroup, we do still do some arts and crafts at home, my son and I like to bake.

It may not be everything I wish I could do, but as parents we simply do the best we can. Provided we are doing that, we should be happy and accepting of all the good stuff and not expend our energy on what we are not doing or on what might make us feel guilty. I know it's not always as easy as it sounds....

Can you relate to the guilt I've described? What makes you feel guilty as a parent? How do you deal with it or do you struggle to do so? Do have a read of all the other excellent posts in this linky over on Premmeditations.
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Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sharing some love for daddy

After a short blogging break during a fun family holiday, I decided to let my four-year old come up with most of the content for this post, one for Father's Day this coming weekend.

We always make a card for Father's Day and last year I remember asking my son for a couple of things that he loves about his daddy that we could write down in the card. I've done the same again this year and decided to share them with you.

6 things my 4-year old loves about his daddy:
  1. playing rough (mostly entails being thrown onto the sofa!) and making paper aeroplanes
  2. getting to watch Fireman Sam (this is a weekly Sunday afternoon event)
  3. encouraging him to take a bite of his dinner when he thinks he doesn't like it and refuses to eat any (then he usually really likes it and eats it all up. I was very surprised to hear this one!)
  4. giving him something extra to eat when he has finished dinner and pudding and is still hungry
  5. not working and just playing with him (weekends)
  6. staying at home for a bit after breakfast, before going to work, to play for a couple of minutes and have hugs and kisses
Interaction, play and food seem to be pretty important to our son and it's touching to hear numbers 3 and 6 particularly, showing that little things really do make a big impact.

I then asked him for a couple of ideas of what his younger sister might say (age 1) and he came up with the following, which share the same themes of play and food!
  1. he plays with her
  2. he makes her happy when she's crying
  3. he makes breakfast most mornings for her
It would be great to hear what your children say about their fathers, please ask them and share in the comments!
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Monday, 3 June 2013



Enjoying some sunshine and family time away. Back in a week or so....
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